Get The Facts
By: Alex Franz, MD
Human Papillomavirus, or HPV is a large family of viruses that has the ability to infect the skin and mucous membranes in humans. At least 100 HPV types have been identified, about 25% of which infect the male and female ano-genital tract. The lifetime risk of HPV infection in a sexually active person is approx. 80%.
Infections are usually silent and produce minimal to no symptoms. Genital HPV strains are generally classified into two groups based on their ability to induce abnormal cell changes. Low risk strains are commonly associated with mild abnormalities and genital warts. These strains rarely, if ever lead to serious abnormalities or cancer of the genital tract.
Infection with high risk HPV varieties is more commonly associated with highly abnormal cells of the genital tract or even invasive cancer of the cervix, vagina, and vulva. The cervix, because of its makeup is especially vulnerable to infection.
Having annual gynecological exams and a pap smear if appropriate, is a way to detect infection with HPV and catch abnormalities early, prior to the development of invasive cancer. If infection is present treatment can be rendered or further evaluation undertaken to assess the degree of abnormalities.
Frequently a colposcopic examination is performed to further evaluate a patient whose pap smear suggests cellular abnormalities consistent with HPV infection. In this brief, simple procedure, magnification lenses and special stains are used to visualize any abnormal lesions caused by HPV. At the same time a small biopsy sample can be taken so the degree of abnormality can be assessed. This will determine what treatment course is to be taken.
Treatment may range from observation, excision of the abnormal lesion, or hysterectomy. Prevention of HPV infection is difficult but possible. The best method is abstinence however this is rarely a desirable option. Condom use, monogamy, and vaccination with an HPV specific vaccine during adolescence are useful. There is currently no immediate cure for HPV infection. For those suffering with current HPV infections, exercise, a healthy diet, stress reduction, and smoking cessation may improve the odds of clearing the infection.
For more questions or information on HPV please call (850)877-7241 to make an appointment with one of our physicians today.